Thursday, April 1, 2021

I know that the last thing anyone wants to do is relive the last year but I couldn't help myself. I wanted to make a photo diary of the past year just for my own records, in case my hypothetical future child ever asks what it was like living during the Covid pandemic. It's lengthy and grammatically all over the place but oh well, here it goes...


March 7, 2020: My partner and I go to Moab with a few friends for the weekend to camp. It is our last trip before lockdown, though we don't know that at the time. Southern Utah starts to warm up in March, and so we go down for some seventy-degree weather and sun. It ends up being violently windy at night and our tent stakes fly out of the ground at night so we have to retreat to our car to sleep, but it is still a great trip.

At night, we chat by the bonfire with our friends and talk about the coronavirus, almost joking when we talk about it, thinking it is just a news story that will eventually go away. Our friends say that they booked cheap flights to Europe for the fall, taking advantage of the low prices due to the coronavirus scare. We think, wow, great idea, wish I had done that, having no idea that we would all be in lockdown in one week. Spoiler alert: my friends never went to Europe in the fall.


March 11, 2020: I go in for my second carpal tunnel surgery after the Moab trip. Turns out, I get into surgery on the last day possible. The day after my surgery, the hospital makes the call to shut down all elective surgeries for the forseeable future due to Covid. I am so lucky. My second and last surgery is done and not pending overhead for months while we wait, not knowing when things will open again.


March 13, 2020: I don't know when exactly Justin and I decide to self-quarantine but it is a few days before there is a state-wide alert. Justin being the internet / news junky that he is turns to me one night in bed and says, I don't think you understand. I think this is going to be a huge deal. I can't even comprehend it so the whole time, I read the news and think surely this will fade away. It isn't until Justin looks at me in bed one night and says those words that it hits me. This is real. We stock up on groceries, go into a self-quarantine and a few days later, the country follows.



March 18, 2020: In our first week of lockdown, Justin and I wake up to the whole house shaking. Half-awake, I think, okay this is either an earthquake or the world is ending. Turns out it is an earthquake. One of the largest to hit Salt Lake City in thirty years.

We run out of our house in our pajamas and talk to our neighbors in disbelief. We ask if they are okay, and then quickly take a step back realizing that we need to social distance. A pandemic and an earthquake hit us in the same week, and everyone's nerves are rattled. I continue having to brace myself and take deep breaths as we feel various aftershocks over the next week.


March 18, 2020: After two weeks of rest from surgery, I go back to work. Instead of going back to the office, I set up in our spare room because my company has gone fully remote.

     

     

For the first few weeks of quarantine, I stay sane by going on daily walks. Spring is my favorite time in Utah. First, spring bulbs start popping up, new ones each day, and then little by little, the neighborhood gardens start flourishing. I go on walks every day, looking at the bulbs and budding trees like they are my friends, my company. I look for them each day, take pictures, record their growth. They comfort me.

Like everyone else, I start zooming with all of my friends, even friends from Honduras I haven't spoken to in years. I have a deep desire to see how everyone is doing, to make sure everyone is okay. My family and I text more than we ever have. I live in fear that my parents will get the virus, as we start to learn that it's most dangerous for older adults. It feels incomprehensible. It feels almost inevitable. I feel sick that I'm so far away but I know there is nothing I could even do if I was close.

I order a lot of books to pass the time. Justin and I's lives become quiet and everything feels scary, especially having to go out to go to the grocery store. When I come home, I feel safe and lucky that I'm quarantined with someone I love. I have more time than I ever have.


April 1, 2020: Just a few weeks after quarantine, I find out that my childhood friend's dad caught coronavirus and passed away. It is the first case that hits me personally. My friend's dad hadn't been in good health since I was in middle school but it is still tragic. I find out the news online during work and can't concentrate the rest of the week.

     

April 10, 2020: A few weeks after hearing about my childhood friend's dad, I get a text from my brother saying that my grandma has Covid. Even though my grandma's nursing home was locked down, Covid still made its way in. She passes away a few days after contracting the virus on Easter Sunday.

In a way, I wasn't shocked to hear the news of her passing. She had been close to passing away a few times in the past year but always managed to keep going. The circumstances made it hard though. With her nursing home being locked down, my grandma hadn't had visitors in a month, and I'm sure she couldn't understand why due to her Alzheimers. My mom and her siblings weren't able to see her before she passed, weren't able to say goodbye in person, weren't able to be by her side in her last moments even though the nursing home was just minutes away from where they live.

My mom, her siblings and a few nieces and nephews gathered outside for her burial and then went over to my aunt's house to celebrate afterward. The rest of the family who lived out of state weren't able to fly in and say goodbye since it would be too risky. I have ice cream in my grandma's honor because there was nothing she loved more than ice cream, and I walk around the neighborhood looking at the spring bulbs and feel her presence. She loved the spring.

     

April 15, 2020: I read Eula Biss' book On Immunity, a book about vaccines and contagious diseases and community care. It is an eerily relevant book that stays with me all year.


Home office in March


Home office in May

April – May: I continue going on a lot of walks, watching the neighborhood gardens grow. I work from home. I work out on Youtube. I cook dinner almost daily. I see my therapist virtually. I facetime with friends. I watch a lot of TV. I try to figure out what to do with my thoughts now that I can't plan ahead. All of my plans have been wiped clean. I can't plan the upcoming summer, much less the next year or more. It's all a blank. It's a very new feeling. I have nothing to work towards, nothing to look forward to. I have a panic attack at one point and Justin talks me down as we sit outside in my backyard.

I realize that this is the first time I've ever had a free schedule. When Covid hit, everything on my schedule was wiped clean. No more Sierra Club meetings, no more writing group, no more going to the gym, no more in-person therapy sessions, no more socializing, no more Whiskey Wednesdays, the weekly gathering a group of our friends' host. In a way, this was the best thing that came out of Covid. I had overbooked my schedule for years.

As much as I say that I love being at home, I'm busy most nights of the week. There has never been a week where I had nothing on my schedule for years most likely. All of a sudden, I was home seven nights a week, and it felt freeing. I needed it, and I don't think that I would have ever given it to myself deliberately. I try to hold onto this idea and hope that even after the pandemic, I can keep my weekday nights clear and sacred.

     

May: Amidst the pandemic, I also struggle with my own chronic pain after surgery. After two carpal tunnel surgeries, I go right back to work after a short leave. I go back to typing eight hours a day, and my hands, arms, shoulder and neck are not happy.

I start monitoring my pain by taking notes of how bad it is each day, trying to see if there are patterns, if the pain is decreasing slowly or staying the same. I often have to stop working in the afternoon to cry and take a break and then go back to work a few hours later.

I'm lucky in a way that Covid caused our company to go remote because I don't know what I would have done in the office. I wouldn't have been able to take as many breaks or cry when I was at a breaking point. Even though being at home helped, I was still in daily, chronic pain, and I didn't know what to do.

     


June: The news of George Floyd makes waves around the nation, as well as the news of Ahmed Aubrey and Breonna Taylor. My friends and I start texting every day as we read the news and our stomachs sink. It's all any one talks about when we are facetiming or on social media and pretty soon, protests started popping up around the country. The first protest in Salt Lake turns violent. Justin and I don't go but at night, we hear helicopters overhead. We turn on the news and see footage of protestors in Salt Lake burning a police car. We check Twitter and see police across the country responding to protestors aggressively, in paramilitary gear. My downstairs neighbor is a journalist for the local NPR station and leaves the house to run to the protest. We wave to her as she leaves, knowing she going to have a busy night.

The next week, Justin and I go to a BLM protest near the capitol. It's the largest protest I've ever seen in Salt Lake City. I have gone to protests here for the climate or when children were separated from their families during the Trump administration. Other Trump-related atrocities too, but this was by far the biggest crowd I had ever seen gathered. It is encouraging, illuminating.

I do freak out going into a crowd during a pandemic. We don't know at this time that the possibility of catching Covid outdoors is low. At one point, I'm standing next to a girl who sneezes, her mask down around her neck. I freak out inside a little. I walk around for the next week nervous but I'm okay. 

Like most everyone else in the country, I start reading, learning more and more about anti-racism and how much our police is funded. The whole country has stopped and recognized for a second what black people in America go through. Mindsets start changing, though we know all of this newfound knowledge might fade, people might go back to their normal routine but for a second, everyone is tuning in, speaking up, learning, acknowledging the racism inherent in our country and systems. Those weeks, that month, that summer, the year will stay with me forever, I hope.

     

June 13, 2020: It's the weekend of my sister's bachelorette party. I am supposed to go to New York and stay at a beach house with all of her girlfriends but we have to cancel the get-together due to Covid. We have a virtual bachelorette party instead. We play various bachelorette party games and have a painting session. It is hilarious and fun and also, a bit sad that it can't happen in person because I would have loved to spend a weekend with all of her closest friends.

Covid throws a huge wrench in my sister and her fiance's wedding plans. They plan on getting married in July of that summer. Sadly, they call off plans for the big wedding early on for safety reasons but they still want to get married, preferably with immediate family around. It is tricky to plan though since our families live all over the U.S. and the risk of two families traveling from all over meant that one person could potentially bring Covid to the gathering and get us all sick.

My sister struggles with the decision for months. Even if the gathering is small, the thought of someone you love catching a potentially life-threatening disease at your wedding is the most stressful thought to have, especially on a day that is supposed to be joyous. A few weeks before my sister and fiance's ceremony, they decide not to bring the immediate family together. Instead, they will get married with a pastor and two witnesses present.

     

My sister and her husband get married on July 11th in a beautiful outdoor ceremony in Kentucky and the family watches on Zoom. Justin and I get dressed up, order food from a fancy restaurant, drink champagne and tear up as we watch.


June 2020: Like a lot of people, I start to pick up hobbies in the pandemic. For me, that means going down the rabbit hole of gardening and sustainability projects. I start watching YouTube videos about permaculture, which leads me to buy "The Suburban Micro Farm" and "Gaia's Garden" and "Musings of an Energy Nerd". I read all of them and go on Zillow for hours and dream about my one-day home where I can retrofit it into a net-zero home and homestead in the backyard.

In the midst of this rabbit hole, I get an email from an urban agriculture non-profit in Salt Lake City. They are looking for volunteers to help tend backyard farms. I sign up and for the first time that year, I have something on my schedule again. One day a week, I go to someone's backyard in the city and work on their garden, apprenticing with a project leader from the non-profit. We are both masked and outdoors so I feel safe, and I start working on my very first vegetable garden.


June 19, 2020: Justin and I take our first trip for the year since the pandemic hit. Airplanes, hotels and vacation rentals all seem questionably unsafe at the time so we decide to only take trips where we can drive and camp, never going indoors in a public space except quick trips into the gas station. We decide to go on a camping trip near Flaming Gorge in eastern Utah.

We are lucky to be living in Utah during the pandemic. At this point, all we know is that the safest place to be is outdoors where there is plenty of air circulation. Luckily, that's where we spend our time in Utah. Quarantine feels less hard here since we are able to hike, bike, backpack, camp, climb, kayak or just sit in our backyard, which is not the case for many living in dense cities or with less access to the outdoors.

     

August 4, 2020: I turn 30! My solo pandemic birthday is not exactly what I pictured when I thought about turning thirty. I always wanted to do a trip with my girlfriends as we left our twenties and collectively turned thirty but alas, that was off the table. Instead, I receive some really thoughtful gifts from friends and family. Justin makes me mussels for dinner and I drink white wine and eat a slice of pie and sour gummies for dessert and honestly, am pretty content.

     

     

August 2020: I keep taking walks to pass the time after work and spend my nights looking at neighborhood gardens. I keep cooking, and for the first time I'm cooking with vegetables I've grown(!).

I start listening to music again. I don't know why but sometime in the past few years, I've reached for podcasts rather than music when I'm doing tasks and I realize the input of conversation and information has been overwhelming. I start to listen to Waxahatchee's album "St. Cloud" on repeat and it makes all of my anxiety go away.


August 2020: After a lot of soul searching, I finally make the decision to quit my job. I have been in chronic pain since my surgeries and can't continue. My boss is nice and understanding and tries to find a way for it to work but in the end, I need to heal.

It's terrifying quitting a job in the middle of a pandemic. The only safe jobs are ones that can be done remotely, on a computer, away from people but I need a job that is active, where my whole body is mobile. I think of getting a job in a grocery store or nannying for the rest of the year to let my hands heal but both of those put me in contact with people and at a higher risk of contracting Covid. I know I'm young and relatively healthy but Covid seems like Russian roulette. It could affect me minimally or give me another chronic health condition, and I was already struggling, working through one chronic issue.

Both my current job and a job out in the world seem to jeopardize my health, just in different ways, but I take a leap and quit. I feel immense relief. Luckily, a week later a friend of mine reaches out to me. He knows someone who is in need of a nanny and takes Covid seriously. I interview and get the job.

     

September 2020: Justin and I decide to take a trip at the end of summer to the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho. It's been on our bucket list ever since we moved to Utah. We camp for five days, three of which are in the backcounty. It's incredibly beautiful and ends up being a psuedo-honeymoon as we decide that we want to get married in the fall.

On the last day of our Sawtooths trip, there is a food truck selling cocktails by one of the main beaches in the park. We buy a cocktail and sit in the sand, soaking up the sun, and almost... just almost feel like we are on a real honeymoon.


September 2020: After seeing my sister's backyard zoom wedding / elopement, Justin and I decide to get married too. Just sign the papers and do it. We are excited about the possiblity of bypassing a large formal wedding and do something simple instead. I also, you know, need to get on his health insurance, being that I just quit my job.

In a month, we find an airbnb nearby where we will have ceremony, and we buy equipment to stream the ceremony to our friends and family online. I buy a few dresses online and luckily find one that I like and get it altered. I go to the hair salon for my only time that year and get a cut and color. I practice how to do an up-do and buy fancy makeup since I will be doing my own hair and makeup. We write vows and hire my boss' wife to take photos.


On the wedding weekend, the internet at the airbnb ends up being terrible so we make the last minute decision to get married in our backyard. We leave the airbnb and drive back to our house to set everything up. It is stressful at the time but it ends up being even more special getting married at our house. The ceremony costs next to nothing, is short and sweet, and perfect in the end. Eloping ends up being the best thing for me, since plans for the big wedding gave me so much anxiety over the cost and all of the details.

On the Monday after the ceremony, we drive to Grand Junction, CO and actually sign the papers (in Colorado, you don't need any witnesses to get married). We pay $30 for the marriage certificate and then get a beer and a meal at brewery after. We eat outside, of course.



October 2020: I start nannying and take a breather after planning a last-minute wedding. On October 1, Trump gets Covid. It's shocking but he gets the best medical attention and then pretends it's nothing.

My friend comes into town mid-October, and I get to go on some socially distanced hikes with her. We get our mail-in ballots in the mail for the upcoming election. Anxiety starts to settle in, even more so than it has already, since we have no idea if we are going to have to live with Trump for four more years. I start writing letters to undecided voters in swing states with the Sierra Club. I hold my breath, waiting for election day.

     

     

October 27, 2020: I look on Instagram one morning and see a post from the Utah Sierra Club. One of the staff members, who I worked with as volunteer, has passed away unexpectedly. My heart drops. How? Why? I find out later that day that she had contracted Covid and her prognosis took a turn a day ago. After a quick fight with the disease, she passed away tragically.

I'm speechless. We emailed a few weeks ago. She was young, in her fifties. She had children and grandchildren. She was out in the community fighting for Covid relief for those who were struggling with rent and their utilities. She was on social media just days prior calling for mask mandates from the Governor.

The Governor makes a statement about her passing. There is a vigil at the Capitol later that week. When I hear the news, I want to shut everything down. She should be alive, I think. If it weren't for Covid, she would be alive. The pandemic had taken an angel, a warrior away from us, and I still can't bear to fully accept this reality. There is nothing that can bring her back. My heart is broken.



November 7, 2020: Election day comes and passes, and we still don't know who has won. In the beginning of the day, Trump is in the lead. I go on a run on election night to get out my anger. I run, yelling under my breath to no one. I'm mad that so many people could still vote for him. Thankfully by the time I get home, Biden has pushed ahead just a little bit.

I wake up Saturday morning after the election and The New York Times has called it. Biden won the election! I'm overjoyed. I turn on "Oh Happy Day" and start dancing. Justin and I walk to a liberal part of town for lunch and hope to see celebrations. A few cars drive past honking and everyone cheers. It is the greatest relief.


November 22, 2020: Justin and I stay home for the holidays. We take a trip to the desert before Thanksgiving and get some much-needed sun. We mountain bike, Justin climbs, we watch The Wire at night on his phone because we are deep into the TV series. We sleep in our car at night when the desert gets violently windy, again.



November and December hits hard. Once we have to change our clocks back an hour for daylight savings, it gets dark so early. I break a little with the darkness. My only sanity over the past year has been being outside of my house, going on runs after work or taking walks. Just getting outside. With the darkness and the cold, that is taken away. I usually enjoy hibernation in winter but not this year. My mental health goes.

I am so sick of TV. I start watching a lot of YouTube.


Thanksgiving and Christmas are quiet. Justin and I stay in Salt Lake, just us. We zoom with our families both days and then make elaborate meals at night. We end up on the couch at night, bored. We are happy that our families are healthy and safe, but we are so, so bored.


January 7, 2021: I check my phone late in the afternoon while nannying. While I was away, pro-Trump supporters storm the capitol. I'm glued to the phone from there on out. I watch in horror as our capital building is overtaken by extremists. Justin and I spend the night scrolling on our phones reading the news. I can't cook, work out, do anything. It's a seriously weird day.

February 15, 2021: Just five months after taking the job, I quit nannying. It's not ideal but there are a few reasons for the decision... Justin and I decide to move home at the end of spring and before we leave Utah, he wants to take the car and go on a sabbatical and climb full-time. It's tricky to do so with Covid but we decide he should go for it. Since he takes the car, I don't have a way to get to work anymore since I work a few towns over but I figure I'll start applying to remote jobs again.

Also, the logistics of nannying in Covid times kept getting murky. I nannied unmasked, as we decided to pod up with the family but it was hard to navigate. No one is perfect in the pandemic and so there were a lot of times where I was putting myself at risk for low pay and it didn't always feel worth it.


February 15, 2021: Justin starts his sabbatical and leaves for two weeks to go climbing in California. Since Justin is gone and I'm newly unemployed, I decide to finally focus my full attention on my book and finish the thing.

In the beginning of the pandemic, I saw a lot of tweets that would say something along the lines of, "Don't pressure yourself to use this time to write your magnum opus or achieve something. Just survive." But when you've been working on a novel on and off for seven years and then a pandemic hits and you are unemployed and have nothing to do, that is probably a good time to finish the novel.


This tweet felt very accurate

While I was nannying, I was only working four days a week so I usually had one day a week to start putting the finishing touches on the book, and I began to make progress. I used to beat myself up about how long it was taking me to finish this project but now that I was working part-time, it wasn't hard at all. I realized that it wasn't my fault I went slowly. I worked full-time and then some, since I had other things go on as well. Once I had an extra day in my week, progress was easier.

Then, with Justin gone, I suddenly have two full weeks I can dedicate to finishing the book. It is grueling but exciting, and I am so glad to be at the finish line. Finally. It's a slim novel, probably a novella really, but I took something in my head and put it on paper. It's not exactly what I had envisioned but it's pretty close. I did it. My childhood dream. It's done. Thank god.


March 4, 2021: Justin and I go to Moab again, almost exactly a year from our last trip to Moab before we went into lockdown. We camp and go to Arches National Park to see the Delicate Arch, the famous monument that is on Utah's license plates. It's beautiful.


March 14, 2021: The hellebores start popping up again. My stomach sinks. How is it spring again? How has a year passed?  With each new bulb popping up, I'm reminded starkly of the start of spring last year, when I was a bundle of anxiety and fear. When staying inside every day felt so bizarre (whereas now it is just normal). When I didn't know what was safe or not, or how any of my family or friends or I were going to fare.


I am so lucky. I made it through and so did my family and friends but there were losses along the way. So many families were not as lucky.

When I look back, there are a lot of good things that happened for me during this past year. I got married, went on some beautiful trips nearby, became a better cook, got time back to myself but so much of the year was filled with fear and anxiety. Fear that a loved one will get sick and I'll be far away. Fear that I will get sick every time I leave the house.

I can't tell you how many times I've checked my temperature this year, convinced I was sick. Or how many times I've looked up the symptoms of Covid to see if they matched my own. Or how many times I ate or drank something just to make sure my sense of smell or taste were still there. Then there was the lingering anxiety about how the world is handling all of this and so much frustration about the lack of unity around science.

The past year wasn't all bad but it was rooted in a lot of fear and anxiety, and I will be so relieved when some of that can fade away.

March 15, 2021: I get offered a dream job. I turn it down. My hands and body are still in excruciating pain. I have to start thinking about a new career. Or at least, I have to spend the next year or more doing something different while I continue to heal. My journey with chronic pain and repetitive strain injury continues.

April 2, 2021: I book an appointment for my vaccine. The end is in sight.